The elderly “carry with them the memory and the wisdom of life, which they transmit to others, and participate fully in the Church’s mission. Let us remember that human life always maintains its value in the eyes of God, far beyond any discriminatory view”, emphasised Pope Francis. He went on to mention how the increase in life expectancy throughout the twentieth century has also led a growing number of people to be affected by neurodegenerative pathologies, which are frequently accompanied by a deterioration in cognitive capacities. These pathologies have an impact on social and health care both in terms of research and in assistance in social and healthcare structures, as well as within the family, which is in need of help and adequate services to care for the elderly.

The Holy Father reiterated the importance of a form of healthcare which “alongside the traditional biomedical model, is enriched by allowing space for dignity and freedom, far from the reclusion and silence that too often surrounds those in the healthcare environment” and, from this perspective, he spoke also of the importance of the religious and spiritual aspect, insisting on the need “to put into practice a particular pastoral approach to accompany the religious life of elderly people with serious degenerative pathologies, with different forms and content, so as not to interrupt the dialogue and relationship of their minds and hearts with God”.

“Dear friends”, he concluded, addressing the elderly present, “you are not only the recipients of the evangelical message, but also, by virtue of your Baptism, its proclaimers in the fullest sense”.



Vatican City, 19 November 2013 (VIS) – “The Church at the Service of Sick Elderly People: Care for People with Neurodegenerative Pathologies” is the theme of the 28th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (Health Care Pastoral) scheduled to take place in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall from 21 to 23 November. In a press conference held in the Holy See Press Office this morning, the initiative was presented by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the dicastery, accompanied by by Msgr. Jean-Marie Mupendawatu and Fr. Augusto Chendi, M.I., respectively secretary and under-secretary of the same dicastery, along with Dr. Gabriella Salvini Porro, president of the Alzheimer Federation, Italy, and Dr. Gabriele Carbone, head of the Dementia Centre – Alzheimer Unit, Italian Hospital Group, Guidonia, Italy.

“The four cardinal points” of the conference are “in-depth study, dialogue and exchange of experiences, reflection and prayer, with the aim of improving health care as far as possible, in the form of pastoral service to the sick and suffering”, explained Archbishop Zimowski. The work of the conference “will be inaugurated with a Holy Mass at the Chair of St. Peter, and will culminate on Saturday 23 November in an encounter of reflection and prayer prior to the audience with Pope Francis. … There will be almost 700 participants, including researchers, doctors, ecclesial and health-care workers, professionals and volunteers, all engaged in the care of elderly people, and they come from over 57 countries, in all five continents”.

“This year’s theme was chosen, bearing in mind its current and future importance, the needs to which it gives rise in terms of pastoral care, and the importance, as Pope Francis has reaffirmed on numerous occasions, of promoting a more inclusive society, in which even the weakest sectors of the population may be fully integrated, respected and valued”. The archbishop went on to explain that nowadays the various forms of senile dementia – of which Alzheimer’s is the most widespread, diagnosed in over fifty percent of recorded cases – is on the increase, affecting 35 million people worldwide at a rate of 7,700,000 new cases each year. “According to these estimates”, he continued, “by 2030 the number of cases could exceed 65 million. The impact of such pathologies is enormous: on the person directly affected, but also on the family, the community and, more extensively, at a social and national level. Therefore in many states, institutional efforts are decisive, but as the work of this Conference will demonstrate, an indispensable contribution is to be made by those close to the patient, as well as parishes, communities, ad hoc religious and lay structures, non-governmental associations and entities: all of which not infrequently ‘make all the difference’ in the care of elderly sick people”.

“However, there is still much to be done. As the last International Day of Older Persons highlighted, those who are no longer young risk neglect, even on the part of the ecclesial community. … There are many opportunities for helping the elderly to spend their free time intelligently, and many proposals for helping them to be useful. But evangelisation is another thing entirely. Evangelising old age means discovering its innate and original possibilities, its true meanings, its intrinsic values … It is, first and foremost, a question of meanings, not of things or activities. Through solidarity between the young and the elderly, it can be seen how the Church is effectively the family of all generations. … When life becomes frail, in old age, it never loses its value and its dignity: everyone is wanted and loved by God, everyone is important and necessary”.

The Conference will consider the following themes: “The epidemiology and health-care policy of neurodegenerative illnesses: the silent epidemic of the third millennium”; “Research and treatment: current and future utility”; “The elderly person with neurodegenerative illnesses”; “Neurodegenerative illnesses and places of care: between the hospital and the local area”; “Preventive actions and potential advantages of technological progress”; “The theological and pastoral perspective” and “The action of the Church”.